Recently Muslim in several countries rioted in response to a Newsweek article claimings Korans were kicked around and flushed down a toilet by Guantanamo interrogators in order to break down Muslim interrogation subjects. Robert Spencer argues for seeing the Muslim response to the report as the biggest problem.
When in April EBay offered a consecrated host for sale, imagine if Catholics had rioted and seventeen people were killed.
The media would have been full of stories about the dark side of the “Christian Right.”
Imagine if, when Muslims desecrated the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000, destroying it with hammers, rampaging Jewish mobs had killed dozens of Palestinians.
The establishment media response would again have inundated us with stories about the heroic Palestinians and their Israeli oppressors.
Neither of those things really happened. But seventeen people have been killed and hundreds wounded in riots by Muslims since Newsweek published its story about an American interrogator flushing a Qur’an down the toilet at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Spencer says the biggest problem here is that Muslims in many countries would respond to the Newsweek article by rioting and killing in the first place.
Spencer argues there have been wrong two main reactions to the Newsweek story: First, on Right some argue that Newsweek was irresponsible for running the story and should be blamed for the result. Some make that argument based on the point that the story might not be true. Others go further and say regardless of whether the story is true Newsweek shouldn't have run it because basically we know how those Muslims would react. In this line of thinking the media have an obligation in the war against terrorist, radical Islamic, or whatever we are fighting to not provide material suitable for propaganada.
The second reaction, coming mostly from the Left, argues that we shouldn't have done stuff like reports of prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo or the invasion of Iraq or support for Israel or assorted other things that have made Muslims feel aggrieved. This argument assumes moral responsibility rests chiefly on the shoulders of white males or America and that anyone non-European, non-white, or culturally non-Western is either not morally rseponsible for what they do or automatically justified due as a result of victimhood from Western white male oppression.
But both of these reactions are misguided. The Muslim reaction to the Newsweek story - like the Muslim reaction to Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses or the Muslims reaction to Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's movie Submission - is radically different than, say, the reaction to Andres Serrano's Piss Christ. No one killed Serrano. He didn't have to go under 24 hour a day police protection and go into hiding. The Muslim reaction is an assertion of the moral legitimacy of measures to protect their religion from any and all criticism. That assertion is incompatible with classical Western liberalism and that assertion makes Islam incompatible with Western society.
If the critics of the Bush Administration handling of interrogations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other sites wanted to state "Well, given that Muslims believe in a religion that asserts its supremancy and demands unversal subservience to Muslim religious claims and given that we need to avoid insulting their illiberal sensitivities in order to fight terrorism we have got to give deference to Islam that it doesn't deserve" then I could see seriously considering their argument. But of course they aren't going to say that.
'This is the ultimate spiritual torture,'' said Muqtedar Khan, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution who studies Islam and world politics. ''If this was done, it is the ultimate blow.''
Think about that. Seriously, should all the people in the world be forced to treat some book as sacred just because the adherents of a single religion claim that noone should be able to mistreat it? This sounds like a global equivalent of the push for a constitutional amendment to ban US flag burning.
Often the wiser course may be to avoid insulting a person's or group's beliefs or values. But if we can't insult some group's beliefs without getting marked for death (e.g. Salman Rushdie or Theo van Gogh) then we are less free regardless of whether we insult them or not. I don't want to live in a society like Holland where some elected officials live under police protection due to their criticisms of Islam.
By the end of the week, the rioting had spread from Afghanistan throughout much of the Muslim world, from Gaza to Indonesia. Mobs shouting "Protect our Holy Book!" burned down government buildings and ransacked the offices of relief organizations in several Afghan provinces. The violence cost at least 15 lives, injured scores of people and sent a shudder through Washington, where officials worried about the stability of moderate regimes in the region.
"In the United States, if there's a terrible report, people don't riot and kill other people," she said. "And you can't excuse what they did because of the mistake - you know, you can't blame it all on Newsweek."
Differences in values between different cultures are large and in many cases incompatible. Will Laura Bush learn any lessons about incompatible cultures from this episode? If she does will she try to teach them to George?
Azza Basarudin, a UCLA graduate student in Middle Eastern Studies, recently complained that when she bought a used Koran on Amazon.com from Bellwether books she discovered that someone had written "Death to all Muslims" on the inside cover. She reacted to this as if she were being persecuted and complained to the Muslim Public Affairs Council which proceeded to lodge a series of complaints and draw press attention to the incident. Daniel Pipes sees this as another example of Muslims demanding special rights for their religion at the expense of the freedom of the American public at large.
(5) The idea that a Muslim has the right, without proof, to accuse a non-Muslim of blasphemy, as Basarudin and MPAC have done, brings to mind the notorious anti-blasphemy laws in force in Pakistan. There, as the World Council of Churches explained in 2000, those laws "have become a major tool in the hands of extremists to settle personal scores against members of the religious minorities particularly Christians." In the United States, the blasphemy accusation serves as the basis for a Jesse Jackson-like corporate shakedown (note MPAC's demand for Amazon to fund its programming).
(6) That Amazon suspended Bellwether from selling Korans via Amazon is a symbolic punishment rather than a substantive one, but it matters nonetheless. Can one imagine any other book's defacement leading to such a penalty?
(7) This episode is yet another instance of Islamist organizations relentlessly seeking special privileges for Islam. At a time when American Catholics must endure "art" that consists of the crucifix in urine and a Virgin Mary made in part of elephant dung, why should American Muslims be indulged in their exquisite sensibilities? As Stephen Schwartz keeps repeating, if Islam is to flourish in America, it must adapt to America.
Used book reseller Bellwether Books should not be held responsible for what is written inside a used book. When you buy a used book over the web you are taking a very obvious gamble on ripped pages, scrawed comments, highlighting markets, and all the rest. No groups which attempts to elevate an insult written in a book should be able to demand any sort of restitution or donation to its cause by book sellers (as MPAC has predictably tried to do with Amazon). My attitude: Grow a thicker skin or emigrate. If you don't like freedom of speech then leave.
View from the Right blogger Lawrence Auster, respondng to the Pipes article, argues for an even more drastic response to illiberal Islam: Deportation.
Stories like this need to be covered, but the problem is, we can keep writing about these things forever and it will make no essential difference. The curse of having these fanatics in our face will continue. If we don’t want ourselves and all the generations that come after us to have to keep dealing with this stuff, there’s only one answer: initiate a net out-migration of Muslims from the U.S and the West, year after year, until the numbers of those that remain are tiny, their Muslim identity weak, and their power non-existent.
You, Mr. Pipes, want to manage the Muslim problem, a job that will never end and that leaves them in our face, forever. I and the people who think like me want to solve the Muslim problem.
Whether Auster's preferred response is reasonable depends in large part on the nature of Islam. Auster's response will seem illiberal by many. But if the more pessimistic Western interpretations of Islam are correct then toleration of Islam amounts of toleration of intolerance. In my view the Dutch ought to deport every single Muslim who says Theo van Gogh or Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Rita Verdonk or Job Cohen or Ahmed Aboutaleb deserve to be killed.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian immigrant to the Netherlands who is an elected member of the Dutch Parliament, has renounced Islam. With the slain Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh she made the film Submission which offers a highly critical view of Islam. Radical Muslims in the Netherlands assassinated van Gogh and Hirsi Ali now lives under constant and mostly secluded guard due to numerous death threats she has received from Muslims in the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali advocates a complete stop of Muslim immigration into Europe and in favor of an intellectual revolution in Islam that is in some respects analogous to the outcome of the Protestant Reformation.
Hirsi Ali argues that there is less a problem with migration in general, than with its Muslim component in particular, and that she should know, because she is herself a Muslim migrant. Hopes for a moderate Islam are only meaningful, she argues, if it is possible to chip away the theological brickwork - constructed, she believes, on a foundation of female oppression - which permeates the structure of the religion. But Islam, she says, is unable to endure criticism or change, and is essentially at odds with European values. With up to 20 million Muslims living in the EU, the journey she has taken in the past 16 years from Africa to Europe, from asylum seeker to politician, and from devotion to apostasy, has come to appear central to the story of the crisis of multiculturalism on the continent. This month, Time magazine selected her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world - an odd but remarkable acknowledgement for a 35-year-old Somali who four years ago was unknown, even in the Netherlands.
Note, however, that the early stages of the Protestant Reformation were highly intolerant of anyone who didn't adhere to the dominant Protestant Chuch in each area of Europe where new non-Catholic Churches developed. The Protestant Reformation took centuries to play out. Changes in beliefs have to take place across generations since many people will not change their beliefs as they get older. Therefore while I wish success to those who are trying to reform Islam as a practical matter we have to accept that as things now stand Islam is not compatible with a free Western liberal society. Also, the basic underlying texts of Islam strike me as more problematic for a reformation than the Bible was for Christianity. Islam's texts just leave less wiggle room for a reinterpretation.
The other problem with the prospects for an Islamic reformation is that the Islamic societies just do not have the general level of intellectual ferment that would support an religious intellectual revolution. While I do not have any statistics handy the figures in the past I've seen appallingly low figures on the rate of new books published in Arabic, for example. The Arab countries are not full of readers and thinkers who are eagerly seeking out new ways to look at life, society, and religion. So I don't see how a serious intellectual revolution in Islam could spread in Muslim countries.
Allowing Muslims to immigrate to the West might be justifiable from the standpoint of grand strategy if those Muslims living in the West would start an intellectual movement that would reform all of Islam along more liberal and tolerant lines. But the number of Muslim living in Western societies is already large enough to allow newer and more liberal intellectual strains of Islam to develop. Further Muslim immigration into the West seems imprudent and may well be folly.
Thanks to Raj for the pointer to the Guardian article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and thanks to Rochi Ebner for the pointer to the Robert Spencer article.
Update: Writing for the sometimes conservative National Review Online Andrew McCarthy takes on knee jerk right wing partisan attacks on Newsweek as missing the point.
The outpouring of righteous indignation against Newsweek glides past a far more important point. Yes, we're all sick of media bias. But "Newsweek lied and people died" is about as worthy a slogan as the scurrilous "Bush lied and people died" that it parrots. And when we engage in this kind of mindless demagoguery, we become just another opportunistic plaintiff — no better than the people all too ready to blame the CIA because Mohammed Atta steered a hijacked civilian airliner into a big building, and to sue the Port Authority because the building had the audacity to collapse from the blow.
Sorry, but I couldn't care less about Newsweek. I'm more worried about the response and our willful avoidance of its examination. Afghanistan has been an American reconstruction project for nearly four years. Pakistan has been a close American "war on terror" ally for just as long. This is what we're getting from the billions spent, the lives lost, and the grand project of exporting nonjudgmental, sharia-friendly democracy? A killing spree? Over this?
I'm surprised that NRO would run an article so critical of thoughtless right wing demagoguery. Good for them.
McCarthy complains about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" coming from right-wingers (I hesitate to call them conservatives) who support democracy building in the Muslim countries. Well, low expectations certainly are at least inconsistent with support for democracy promotion as a key strategy in reduce the risk of terrorism. But what is wrong? The low expectations or the support for democracy building? In my view a realistic realistic appraisal of all the available evidence on the Muslim countries leads logically to low expectations. Therefore the neocon Bush Administration project to export "sharia-friendly democracy" is an exercise in folly.
Yes Andrew, we just got a killing spree, over this. Integrate this evidence into your view of the Muslim countries.
If you are not a long time ParaPundit reader and haven't read all my posts on why democracy is not a panacea check out some of my older posts on democracy: "Prospect Of Democracy Breeding Ethnic Hatred In Iraq" and "Robert Conquest On The Limits And Pitfalls Of Democracy" and "History Of American Interventions Bodes Poorly For Democracy" and "Democracy Requires A Supporting Set Of Beliefs" and "Will Democracy Make Middle East Governments More Anti-American?" and "Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies" and "A Critical Look At Natan Sharanky's Democracy Argument".
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2005 May 22 04:02 PM Immigration Culture Clash|